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Whether you are a true or recreational athlete, you should be serious about your diet. Nutrition is something that should not be neglected in training and for overall health. The role of a nutritious diet, should meet specific needs of training to meet performance expectations, as well as maximise health and body composition goals (like a low-fat percentage!). If meals taste good, it is much easier to stick to a plan.

These five nutrition tips will help:

  1. Healthy Carbohydrates

Carbs are an athlete’s main fuel, unless you are a fat-adapted endurance athlete. If you train for under 60-90 minutes, you do not need to eat extra carbohydrates. But if your workout is longer than that, use these tips:

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  • Eat a meal slightly higher in carbohydrates one to two days before you train to achieve maximum glycogen storage. These include sweet potato, brown rice, quinoa, rye bread, rolled oats, 4 seed granola, or even fresh or dried fruits – like adding goji berries to oats.
  • On the day of an event, eat 3 to 4 hours before exercising, to give your stomach time to empty.
  • Avoid eating sugary or starchy foods within 30 minutes of starting.
  • Replenish carbs, minerals, and water during long exercise sessions. Many athletes prefer sports bars, sports drinks, or gels, since they are so convenient, but I feel these are very processed and full of preservatives and sugar. More natural sugars, such as bananas and potatoes are much healthier, and they provide a more sustained energy source.
  1. Moderate Protein

Protein does not provide a lot of fuel for energy, however, you need it to maintain muscles.

  • Eating too much protein puts strain on the kidneys. Eat high-quality protein, such as lean meats, fish, poultry, nuts, eggs, milk.
  • Milk is one of the best foods for recovery because it provides a good balance of protein and carbohydrates. Whey protein in milk is absorbed quickly, which can help speed recovery immediately after an event. Milk also has calcium, which is important for maintaining strong bones.
  • Nuts provide an excellent protein (and healthy fat) source to take in during endurance events. Try any nut mix or a trail mix, or a seed mix to add to your endurance event snack pack. The best part is that nuts contain natural anti-inflammatory oils!
  1. Eat low fat

For long races, your body turns to fat for energy when carbohydrate sources run low. Most athletes get all the fat they need by following the basic dietary guidelines to eat mostly unsaturated fat from foods such as nuts, avocados, olives, olive oil, and fatty fish like salmon and tuna.

Avoid fatty foods on the day of an event, since they can upset your stomach.

  1. Drink Fluids Early and Often

Intense exercise, especially in hot weather, can cause dehydration, decrease performance and, in extreme cases, threaten your life. High-intensity athletes should drink fluids early and often to prevent dehydration. Because intense exercise makes you lose fluid quickly, it’s a good idea to drink fluids before as well as during an event. Endurance athletes such as marathon runners or long-distance cyclists should drink 240ml of fluid every 15 minutes during an event. When possible, drink chilled fluids, which are more easily absorbed and help cool your body down.

  1. Replace Lost Electrolytes

Sweating removes both fluids and electrolytes. Electrolytes help transmit nerve signals in your body. To replenish them, reach for salted potatoes & bananas for potassium. If you are also losing a lot of fluid as you sweat, dilute sports drinks with equal amounts of water to get the best balance of fluid and electrolytes.

Lighter meals are best suited for an athletes’ repetitive activity levels. Healthy snacks can continuously supply energy to train. I believe that real food provides better nutrients that are easier for your body to absorb than supplements, so I always suggest using fresh wholefood ingredients first. Nothing beats fresh foods that taste good.

Meal ideas before exercise:

  • Smoothies are gaining increasing popularity in the world of healthy snacks. They are easy to make and affordable. Throw in sliced strawberries (or frozen berries), banana, crushed ice, and yoghurt or milk in a blender.  Your taste buds will surely celebrate the sweetness of the pink smooth drink. You can also combine fruits (bananas or apples) and other ingredients like nut butter and spinach!
  • YouFirst Rolled Oats cooked and topped with YouFirst mixed seeds and blueberries
  • Poached eggs on rye toast with wilted spinach and sliced tomatoes (this works best 2-3 hours before)
  • YouFirst 4-seed granola with a plain yoghurt, honey and berries
  • Rye toast or a seed toast with peanut butter (for those with nervous tummies!)
  • Cooked quinoa – can add yoghurt & berries for a sweet version, or chopped vegetables & feta for a savoury version

Healthy homemade snacks are vital for good nutrition for athletes. To fuel an active lifestyle, along with a healthy life stick to the basics – wholefoods, fresh fruits and vegetables and healthy grains.